What exactly is this cloud? Where is it? Is anyone inside the cloud this very moment? You might have heard others ask these questions, and you might have even wondered them yourself. It seems like the term ‘cloud computing’ gets thrown around all the time.
In the most basic sense, cloud computing is the idea of accessing and storing data and software through the Internet rather than on a local hard disk. The ‘cloud’ is only a metaphor, as it really is just the Internet. The term has roots tracing back to the time of presentations that used flowcharts. In these flowcharts, the presenter would often use a puffy cotton cloud symbol to serve as the picture of the Internet and all its giant server farms. Connections and distribution of requested information would happen as the cloud floated by.
One thing cloud computing is not a part of is your local hard disk. When you install programs, apps, or software, or store data, files, and information on your hard drive, then it’s local computing or local storage. All you need or want is in close physical proximity to you, and that makes data access quick and convenient for that computer and anything else on your LAN. Working off a local hard disk was the default standard for computer operation for many decades. There are even those that say it’s still better than using cloud computing, for a number of reasons to be listed in later paragraphs.
Another thing cloud computing is not about is you having a dedicated NAS server or hardware in your home or business. A dedicated network attached storage server doesn’t qualify as using the cloud or Internet. On the other hand, some network attached storage options do actually let you use Internet access to get data and files, and even one Western Digital brand called “My Cloud” to confuse things even more. So, NAS devices are starting to see their lines blue when it comes to cloud computing, but for the most part they still do not count.
If anything is going to be called cloud computing in an accurate sense, then it has to access software and information through an online connection, or at a minimum have its data synced through the Web. In business environments, employees may know lots about what happens on the far side of a connection, but individual consumers may be wholly clueless as to what takes place there. In either case, the final results are identical: cloud computing uses online connections to function all the time, any place there’s Internet access available.
Business Use Compared To Consumer Use
Just to be clear, this article is discussing cloud computing as it relates to individual users. That would be the people are who are sitting and relaxing at home or using the Internet regularly in small- or medium-sized offices.
In the business realm, the “cloud” is a very different place. A number of companies have made the choice to use SaaS, where a business subscribes to a software as a service application through Internet access. Salesforce.com is a prime example of this. PaaS, or platform as a service, is where a company can make its own internal applications that everyone inside the business can use. And you can never forget IaaS, where big players like Rackspace, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google provide other companies infrastructure as a service that get rented out. Consider Netflix as a famous example, as its streaming services are actually IaaS from Amazon servers.
Cloud computing has become a huge industry of its own right. 2012 saw over a hundred billion in revenue, with anticipations of a quarter more than that by 2017 and then explosive growth into a projected half a billion by 2020.
Examples Of Cloud Computing
There are occasionally very blurry lines between local and cloud computing. That happens because the Internet has infiltrated nearly all computers these days. It’s very easy to buy something like Microsoft Office 365 as localized software that still integrates cloud computing to get storage needs taken care of, such as Microsoft OneDrive.
Having said that, Microsoft has an array of Internet-based applications, collectively called Office Online. These are online-only versions of OneNote, PowerPoint, Excel, and even Word. Users access them through their Internet browsers with no need to install anything. That by definition makes them a form of cloud computing.
Other examples you might already use:
Google Drive: This is totally cloud computing. All of its storage is online so that it can integrate with Googles cloud apps of Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Google Drive is not just for desktops and laptops. Smartphones and tablets can use it too. Docs and Sheets even have their own mobile apps too. The majority of the services Google also provides, be it Calendar, Maps, or Gmail, are all cloud computing.
Apple’s iCloud: This cloud service from Apple is typically used for general online storage and backup, with specific uses for syncing up calendars, contacts, and mail. Mac OS and iOS users can access it, and Windows users can use an installed iCloud control panel to access. Additional features include a word processor and spreadsheet app.
Amazon Cloud Drive: This huge retailer primarily uses its storage medium for MP3s that you buy from them, but you get unlimited image storage if you use Amazon Prime. This service also holds things for Kindle devices.
Box, SugarSync, and Dropbox are all hybrid services that function primarily in the cloud by storing synced versions of your local files.
The best example right now of any device that is totally cloud-focused is Google’s Chromebook. These particular laptops only feature enough power and storage inside their cases to run Chrome OS, which is really just the Chrome Internet browser amped up into an OS. Chromebook users do everything online, because the storage, media, and apps are all within the cloud.
Chromebits are interesting little drives that are smaller in size than candy bars. You can plug one into any display device with an available HDMI port and then turn it into a functional computer that runs Chrome OS.
One of the most notable complaints about Chrome OS is that there is currently no way to access your data when there is no available Internet connection at the time.